“I am in the depths of despair. Damn you, Fox execs!” wrote one of my Facebook friends. She wasn’t alone in her sentiment.
Around the web, over Twitter and Facebook and, I’m sure, other social networks, women expressed outrage at the news that The Mindy Project had been cancelled despite an exceptionally good third season. How good was it? The website Rotten Tomatoes gave it a critical rating of 82% and an audience score of 94%! But the audience, while devoted, was a small one by network standards: an estimated 2.31 million.
"I wish The Mindy Project had the audience size it deserves” Ken Tucker, Yahoo Critic at Large (and a critic for my former employer, Fresh Air with Terry Gross) wrote in March. “As a romantic workplace comedy, it’s better than most of the Hollywood feature films in this genre that have been released during this show’s existence. Tell your friends.”
Boston Globe TV critic Matthew Gilbert admitted in a recent review that he’d “fallen kind of in love with the character Mindy Lahiri.”
For those who don’t know the show, Lahiri (Mindy Kaling, left), is a gynecologist and, more recently, fertility doc who is a hopeless romantic and an optimist, albeit clueless, when it comes to just about anything else. She’s the creation of the very talented Mindy Kaling.
Although I’m singing its praises now, I’ll confess that I wasn’t a fan of The Mindy Project its first season. As an Indian-American, I wanted to like the show. I mean, Kaling was not only the first Indian-American female lead ever, she was also the only East Asian lead, creator, and executive producer of a show. Yet the first season felt like it was looking for its footing.
I wrote about it two years ago in my TVWW piece Beyond Apu: Indian Americans on Television. In the piece, I pointed out it was exciting to see Kaling breaking stereotypes about Indians, particularly of Indian women who were always portrayed as flawless exotic beauties. At the same time, I wasn’t the only one wondering why we weren’t seeing any of her ethnic background in the story lines, unlike that of other characters in the show.
During the 2012 TCA Press Tour, Kaling herself said about her “Indianness,” "I try not to rely on it nor deny it… when it comes up organically in my writing, we can address it.” But that didn’t happen much in that first season.
Still I stuck with it. Season 2 was better until the antagonist from the first season, her office mate Danny Castellano (Chris Messina, right, with Kaling), was made her love interest. Danny was the one who was mean to her in the first season, making fun of her weight for example. He was abrupt, a fitness nut, and very superficial, particularly when it came to women. My immediate thought was that’s it for the show; this will never work! But, low and behold, it worked. It worked so well, that despite the odds it’s actually one of the best screen relationships I’ve seen recently.
Now we come to the third season and what a season it was! Kaling finally revealed the “Indianness” of her character in an organic way. She delved into issues of religion with the very devout Catholic Danny pitted against Mindy’s upbringing as a Hindu though clearly a non-practicing one. She even got Stephen Colbert to play Danny’s new priest, and former classmate, Father Michael O’Donnell, whose background was the very definition of sin. Colbert was just part of the brilliant guest casting. Rhea Perlman had a recurring role as Danny’s mom, with Dan Hedaya as his estranged dad. Mindy’s parents haven’t been shown but that seemed destined to happen soon. She made major career decisions by getting a fellowship at Stanford and opening her own fertility clinic. Even drawing out differences between her and another Indian doctor, played by Gita Reddy, on the same fellowship who was, let’s say, more Indian. And Mindy found herself pregnant and facing everything from morning sickness to body issues, despite her already voluptuous frame. By the Season 3 finale, Mindy was doubting Danny’s commitment to her while, unbeknownst to her, he had gone to India to confess to her parents that he was the father of their grandchild-to-be. It was the kind of cliffhanger Nora Ephron would have been proud of!
So what’s going to happen? Will Danny and Mindy get married? Will we finally meet her parents? Will they clash with Danny’s mother? How will they handle a new baby?
To get the answers, we need Season 4. We need Hulu to step in and prove to us there’s a place for a well-written and conventionally unconventional rom-com. Hulu please give Mindy Lahiri that happily ever after she and we have been waiting for!